Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Video game ABOUT environmental responsibility

Speaking of games as a way to encourage people to make sustainability a part of their routines. I bumped into this article about Oceanopolis -
"a fun, interactive and educational game that engages players worldwide in stopping waste and recapturing resources using recycling & up-cycling principles."

This is a Facebook based game, created by the recycling company Greenopolis, that lets you perform a variety of waste management activities to keep your island clean and to earn points to buy in-game (or some real world) stuff. Basically it's a game ABOUT recycling (I'll get back to that in a minute) that is intended to make learning about the benefits of recycling fun and maybe a little cool.

So how does this stack up against some of the factors that I think make for a good game? i.e. the ones that keep you coming back for more...
[Full disclosure: I have not played the game. This analysis is based on the description of the games features, some feedback from players on the facebook page and experience with similar games]
  • Sense of progression
    • Achievements - The achievements seem to be centered around buying in-game stuff to build up your island. There is a promise of adding quests and so-forth in the future, but it is not clear if this gives you badges or other permanent signs of achievement or just the generic "point."
    • Discovery / story - New garbage? New up-cycled things you can make with your garbage? New animals to rescue?
  • progression measured vs others and yourself (normalizing scoreboard)
    • Points and the scoreboard - There appears to be a scoreboard in game that summarizes how much stuff you have collected and points earned. Not clear how public this is or that is is compared to others' boards.
    • Buying stuff - Progression becomes mostly about adding things to your island and your Avatar that others can see when they visit.
  • bragging rights - tell your friends
    • Facebook integration - presumably this game will spam your friends' walls with updates of what you have collected, built and bought.
    • In-game chat - not clear that there is a way to converse with other Avatars but you can visit other's islands and see what stuff they have on the island as well as on their Avatar.
  • Replay value
    • Get real world stuff - Points can be "...turned into cash donations, or exchanged for real discounts at thousands of restaurants, theaters and real-world establishments." So to the extent that getting these things is really interesting or helpful it might keep you coming back.
    • More islands - you get the opportunity to manage more islands... but it's hard to imagine that the experience on two islands will be much different than one island. It is a chance to keep playing, but it's not clear that it really ends or has a logical conclusion that you'd want to go back and see over and over.
So I'm not sure how "sticky" this game will be as it seems fairly one dimensional about a topic that most people don't find that interesting...

 Game ABOUT sustainability or a game that helps you be sustainable?
A more important idea that this game helps crystallize for me is the difference between a game ABOUT a thing and game that involves you in DOING a thing. To borrow a little terminology from Switch - How to change when change is hard [Chip and Dan Heath]:
  • A game "about" implies that the goal is to teach people and that will change behavior (motivating the rider).
  • A game of "doing" implies that the goal is to shape the path and include changed behavior as part of the criteria of winning the game.
Oceanopolis clearly falls into the "about" catergory despite its one real world link which is to get extra points for recycling at a Greenopolis recycling station.

MIT has been doing research on Augmented Reality (AR) games. These games put the player in the real world, doing real and virtual things in order to play. That is perhaps a little further than most want to go for a game but it does suggest the opposite extreme from games that are entirely about cerebral learning of what to do.

So... I'm still looking for that game that strikes the right balance of in-game progression and feedback using real world signals and behaviors (think Smart Meters!).